IT Outsourcer Globant Sells Innovation, Wows Google, LinkedIn

In 2006, when Google was preparing to launch its e-commerce platform, Google Checkout, it had to try to break it, a crucial step in any software development process. While some of that testing happens in-house, developers often outsource some of the time-consuming task to low-cost shops that can throw a lot of people at it to click all over the site looking for bugs and vulnerabilities.

In this case, Google wanted a robust test to attack the complex payment system, simulating the battering it could expect in the real world. The search giant hired Globant, then a 350-employee Buenos Aires startup that had germinated in a bar in 2003. Within a few months the software development and services company was back with surprising results. It had mounted an unexpected attack (using PHP, a computer language not typically used by Google but popular with app developers) to inject deceptive information, successfully stealing money.

Impressed with the elegance of the hacking technique, Google’s developer relations manager, Patrick Chanezon, invited former Globant engineer Bruno Rovagnati to give a talk at Google’s Mountain View (Calif.) headquarters about how he uncovered the flaws. “The room was too small; all the engineering [people] wanted to hear,” Chanezon recalls. Five years later, Globant is one of Chanezon’s “favorite outsourcing partners,” currently working to refine Google’s Chrome browser and its Android operating system.

“With Google as a customer, it became easier to introduce ourselves to other companies, so our growth exploded,” says Martin Migoya, 43, Globant’s chief executive and one of its four co-founders. At Google’s recommendation, LinkedIn hired Globant in 2007, when it needed temporary on-site engineering talent to prepare for the launch of OpenSocial, a programming platform that hosts social applications across multiple websites. Globant went on to design and build Outlook Social Connector for LinkedIn, which allows LinkedIn contacts to be imported into Microsoft Outlook. Globant now has seven engineers at LinkedIn’s Mountain View headquarters, enhancing Internet browser toolbars and LinkedIn’s Android application. Globant is LinkedIn’s only outside vendor that writes source code for the popular professional networking tool, according to Brandon Duncan, LinkedIn’s platform engineering director.

LATIN AMERICAN PIONEER

Globant now has some 150 customers, including Electronic Arts, MySpace, and ad agency JWT. Last year the company, which offers IT services ranging from development to quality testing, had $50 million in revenue; this year it could reach $90 million, according to Migoya. Companies in the U.S. and the U.K. account for more than 90 percent of Globant’s business. Sharing a time zone is an advantage for North American customers, as is Globant’s insistence that its employees learn English to eliminate cumbersome intermediaries common in Asian outsourcing. Kirk Laughlin, founder and editorial director of Nearshore Americas, a website that covers IT outsourcing in Latin America, says Globant is a pioneer in Latin America’s fast-growing $14 billion IT outsourcing industry. “They embrace the same high-octane, dream-big bravado that is emblematic of the Valley,” Laughlin says. Late last month Globant raised $15 million for acquisitions from U.S. venture capital firms FTV Capital and Riverwood Capital. Outsiders now own $40 million of Globant’s equity.

Aware that clients’ and prospects’ in-house IT departments are working overtime to keep up with major shifts in how software is created, Globant is trying to move up the food chain, from one-off project contractor to long-term innovation manager. That push includes building new apps, with particular focus on mobile, social networks, and video games. Architectural shifts in the basic platforms of the software industry “really changed the game of innovation and what kind of stuff you can build and in what time frame,” says Google’s Chanezon. “Globant is well-positioned to be a strong player.”

The founders’ early penchant for working with open-source software gives them a running start over their regional competitors, says Laughlin. Open-source programs can be married to proprietary software for cheaper, faster solutions; it’s also a fecund arena for new software developments, says Guibert Englebienne, Globant’s chief technology officer. “We can help our customers to know what capabilities technologies have that are outside of their current focus ... and this helps our customers remain innovative,” he says.

A CROWD-SOURCING SCRUM

Globant’s workflow is designed to keep ideas and expertise flowing. Before being assigned to specific teams, all customers’ projects are presented at brainstorming sessions attended by the company’s most experienced talent, 20 “gurus” whose specialities include social networks, gaming, usability, business analysis, and mobile. Particularly nettlesome challenges are tossed into a crowd-sourcing scrum among Globant’s fast-growing workforce, which Migoya expects will reach 3,000 by the end of 2011, up 50 percent from 2010. These resources are also on tap for the roughly 20 percent of company engineers working abroad, such as those at LinkedIn.

To keep ahead of the seemingly endless wave of new developments, employees are allowed time in company labs to explore “technologies nobody is asking for yet,” says Englebienne, formerly a scientific researcher at IBM. If that sounds similar to Google’s practice of letting employees spend 20 percent of their time on anything they want, it’s not accidental. Globant modeled its company culture on Google’s. The ethos is similar, as are Globant’s productivity-boosting indulgences -- ping-pong, climbing wall, guitar lessons, massages, and hair-dressing. Apart from their technical skills, which LinkedIn’s Duncan says are comparable to their Silicon Valley counterparts, “[Globant employees] also have the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity we really, really value in engineers -- that’s hard to find.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ken Stier at kenstier@earthlink.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nick Leiber at nleiber@bloomberg.net

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